My 6 Favorite Movies of 2020.

I already feel like some kind of pretentious indie wanker stating that “2020 was a tough year for film.” I mean, it goes without saying that every art form had its own form of evolution and adaptation in the swirling eye of the pandemic, but I believe F I L M in all of itself, as an industry, probably felt it the most. There are so many people that have to be involved and so many places you have to be able to go and there just wasn’t any way to accomplish that this year. I don’t believe that necessarily affected films being made this year that were supposed to release this year. No, that was its own separate spectacle as states individually decided whether its citizens could attend any public meeting spaces, let alone giant rooms where you sat next to one another (more than likely eating loudly, speaking to one another, pulling up their phones, but that’s a whole other topic entirely). Distribution of films took a brand new look as some preferred to change their trajectory in order to wait out the ability to play in movie houses again while others forged ahead and decided that the future is in the home of the consumer.

Smarter people have commented on this over the last few months, and I must say also people far more passionate about the medium than me watched far more interesting and beautiful films than I could probably ever find. But these were 6 films that came out in 2020 that I loved and think you should be checking out.

6. Soul
Directed by: Pete Docter
Starring: The voices of Jamie Foxx, Tiny Fey, Rachel House, Richard Ayoade

I can’t tell if I wanted this one to rank higher on my list or not. I absolutely loved it, but I haven’t had the same time as I have with other movies to sit with them, to let those ideas filter into me over time. To slowly have inner dialogue about it and have finer points bubble to the surface. There are two scenes in this film that really got me, two that I believe will stand the great test of time as conversations turn them into small legend. One is the barbershop scene, where we get a great slice of life, watching someone’s dream become felled by circumstance while he positively rolls with the punches and adapts much as we all have. The second is one that is hard to describe, one that I called “like a scene from Tree of Life” but Jacob Geller put it a bit more succinctly as “that zoom out scene”. If nothing else, I think underlining or isolating that scene alone to create a sense of perspective on one’s own life really creates a sense of how small we are, and does an incredible job of visually representing that idea of “all the little things that make up the whole.” This film is important, especially as I grow older, to create reminders. It helped me remember to slow down. To appreciate small things as they come. To know myself, to find my talents and the talents of others and celebrate them. It doesn’t dole out the existentialism in massive dollops the way that The Good Place does, but instead addresses it in big picture form, an easily digestible hour and forty minutes that simply felt good to watch. It has a little bit of that classic Pixar emotional waterboarding, but I don’t think it can expose us to our humanity in any other way. This is the type of storytelling I love. One thing that’s really interesting about the movie overall: I have no idea how a kid will feel about watching it. I wouldn’t say they should avoid it, but I don’t believe they’ll take any joy from it.

5. Relic
Directed by: Natalie Erika James
Starring: Emily Mortimer, Bella Heathcote, Robyn Nevin

This is a horror film which takes time to build and doesn’t rely on a lot of jumps and claustrophobia to get in your head. Not to say there isn’t a share of it there, but most of what will wrap its creep on you is the disarming sense that you cannot tell which element feels supernatural and which elements are simply the violent throes of dementia and the way that they burn down the mental palaces of the ones we love. There’s a lot of intense moments here, and instead of falling into the standard fare of “Oh, I would have never done that,” sentiment while watching any normal horror movie, there were moments where I genuinely have no idea how I would have handled the scenarios, especially considering that many of them dealt with dear loved ones. I thought this was a great watch, especially after the last few years giving us some new horror classics and filmmaking taking new strides into how dark we will allow our storytelling to go, I think this one definitely held its own.

4. Swallow
Directed by: Carlo Mirabella-Davis
Starring: Haley Bennett, Austin Stowell

This was a slow one and it took time to figure out if I liked it or not. It finds ways to test our ability to feel sympathy and exposes a lot of the ways that we can feel trapped in our own minds if we slip far enough down the well. What starts out as a small feather of freedom plucked from an otherwise highly controlled and rigidly monitored environment steamrolls into an obsession, a complete grasp for some level of control by a housewife who has given the core of herself away for so long that she scrapes to find meaning in her own decisions. It didn’t reach the same depths, the same mastery as Parasite, but I found the way that tension and suspense was built was at least told in the same language. I loved a lot of the long shots that left us staring at what it might feel like to be encased in a prison of wealth without the means to engage with it. Beyond the climax, we start to find an almost entirely different story, an epilogue that takes on a momentum of its own, wrought with new purpose and new threats. I didn’t see it going where it went, but it absolutely granted reason to a lot of the behaviors we saw. I can see it being construed as a bit tacked on, but I’m not sure it would have felt concluded without it.

3. True History of the Kelly Gang
Directed by: Justin Kurzel
Starring: George Mackay, Nicholas Hoult, Earl Cave, Charlie Hunnam, Essie Davis, Thomasin Mckenzie, Russell Crowe

Of all films that I saw this year, this is the one that mentally stuck with me the most. Mackay plays Ned Kelly, a sort of folk hero in Australia who came up a criminal after being sold into some sort of servitude by his mother. The opening of the film states that, despite the title, none of this is true. The stories, I imagine, have grown in size like a raging inferno in a dry forest, to the point where he lives on in legend like William Wallace, Bonnie and Clyde, and Jesse James. Visually, the movie works wonders in the dark and in the light, putting the slowly creeping insanity build as a result of a bow string being pulled further back, taut to the point of screaming. Mackay’s performance is completely dialed in, going to some wicked and dark places that he uses to roar the character of Ned Kelly to life. Nick Hoult plays a remarkable foil to the character, and Essie Davis’ portrayal of Ned’s mother is utterly unhinged. I think the crackling frenzy of Kelly’s emotionally driven lunacy kept me guessing through the entire film and the brazen ardor that came across in a near Tyler Durden-esque level of detachment was what kept me roped in.

2. Beastie Boys Story
Directed by: Spike Jonze
Starring: Mike D, Adam Horovitz

I loved the format of this documentary. It feels intimate and it conveys the ownership of the group’s legacy as one that they’re proud of. They love the lows as much as they love the highs and as elder statesmen not only of hip-hop, but ultimately of pop culture and almost accidental celebrity, they show how to handle it and sometimes how not to handle it and are able to look back on all of it with a level of candor that makes you feel like you know the guys. All the while as they retell the story of their careers both in the Beastie Boys and before and after, you get a feeling that the entire presentation is an ode to Adam Yauch. There is a constant lauding of his creativity, his innovative spirit, his ability to strike flint and begin the fire that strengthened the steel of their brotherhood. It was marvelous the way they were able to accomplish both a retrospective of the Beastie Boys, their individual lives and also include a love for their fallen brother in under two hours while keeping the entire thing moving, entertaining and, in a way, exciting. I love that I was able to experience them as a fan and to grow along with them. It was never obvious to me while they were an active presence just how innovative and different they were and just how many different facets of themselves they continued to reveal not only to us but to themselves. Incredible documentary. Worth watching even if you’re not a fan of the band’s music. I think you’ll still take a great deal from it.

1. Horse Girl
Directed by: Jeff Baena
Starring: Alison Brie, Debby Ryan, Molly Shannon

I thought this film would be “cool”. I didn’t expect it to bear much fruit as it was a Netflix original, I heard ultimately nothing about it and the trailers kind of made it sound like “a wild and witty, quirky jaunt.” Barf. Instead what I got felt like a true descent into a place of mental illness, an uncontrollable torrent of misinterpretation, social miscues and cracked perception. I once knew someone who said that they thought the virgin mary was speaking to them. I never thought this person was “crazy” and in ways, I thought they were either making it up or exaggerating some level of anxiety, manifesting the spiraling lack of direction into something that felt creative and intriguing. But watching this film made me feel like even if I never voiced it, maybe those were some disrespectful thoughts to have. I’m not sure the mental illness that Alison Brie is meant to have in this film, but the character is seeing things that don’t exist, experiencing things that feel as if the events themselves are out to attack her, and snakes off into a phase of perception where her level of belief is so deep and so true that I started to feel scared for her. Brie portrays the vulnerability and naivety of Sarah perfectly, giving her a wandering and ethereal sense of the character that becomes a character you want to care for, a person you want to find help, and at certain points, a character whose visions and experiences you begin to believe.



I Consume.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store